Ukraine: Empowering civil society to turn the tide of anti-Roma hate crime

By Yulian Kondur

Hate crime has become an increasingly pressing issue in Ukrainian society, particularly since the beginning of 2018, when the number of attacks on representatives of the Roma community and LGBT+ groups has risen. Violence was manifested in a series of pogroms on Roma informal settlements and the murder of a 24-year-old Roma man – as well as the systematic disruption of human rights events and peaceful assemblies or gatherings on gender and LGBT+ topics. While there have been some positive developments in the practice of law enforcement – police have opened investigations into hate crimes against Roma informal settlements, for instance, while Roma NGOs have conducted police trainings and developed algorithms to prevent cases of potential hate-motivated violence – the general climate of impunity persists.

It is also worth noting that many of the positive developments to date on combating hate crime in Ukraine have been driven by continuous advocacy efforts of human rights groups, with Roma NGOs playing an increasingly active role in recent years. The National Roma Integration Strategy has also significantly contributed to the acceptance of Roma NGOs as equal members of the Ukrainian civil society movement. Adopted in 2013 and expiring in 2020, the strategy has been actively utilized by the Roma NGOs to establish cooperation with state authorities and to secure their rights.

In this area, MRG has played a prominent role in supporting capacity-building of Roma NGOs. In cooperation with a local partner, Chiricli, various activities in multiple directions have been organized, ranging from community mobilization and the formation of local advocacy campaigns to pilot projects by Roma NGOs implemented in partnership with local and central authorities. Other actions include holding and participating in national and international advocacy meetings: in particular, in the course of MRG’s involvement in Ukraine, it has focused considerable efforts on advocating for a fairer justice system, including at the UN level.

In the absence of reliable census data, as in Ukraine, studies and mapping can serve as a starting point for collecting information for a needs assessment and gaining a deeper knowledge of the situation of Roma. In this respect, pilot mapping of community needs in several regions has been conducted by Roma CSOs and supported by MRG – so-called ‘Roma social passports’ that have shown great potential and are now being expanded to other regions. This disaggregated data is, among other things, a useful tool for ensuring the security of Roma communities by preventing and combating hate-motivated violence. The Roma social passport itself is a compilation of information collected and processed by local authorities and Roma mediators, reflecting the identified needs and level of access to services among the Roma population in a specific region. It therefore serves to fill the existing knowledge gap in the exact number of Roma residing in Ukraine. The Gender Responsive Evaluation of the National Roma Integration Strategy, conducted in 2019, highlighted the Roma social passport and its methodology as the one of the best practices implemented in Ukraine with regard to improving the situation of Roma.

In its turn, the Coalition of Roma NGOs has continued its involvement in combating hate crimes though monitoring and advocacy. It is currently part of a large-scale project titled ‘United to confront hate-motivated crimes’, coordinated by the Freedom House office in Ukraine and implemented in partnership with the Nash Mir (an LGBT+ NGO), the Congress of National Communities, the Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation and the Human Rights Centre ZMINA. Among other aims, one of the goals of the project is to bring together the most vulnerable and targeted minority groups in order to assess and map the current challenges, as well as developing viable policy solutions for improving the deteriorating situation in Ukraine in future.

This active contribution by Roma NGOs and civil society is all the more important while the relationship between elements of the state and far-right organizations remains firm in Ukraine – as demonstrated by video footage that emerged of the Minister for Infrastructure, Vladislav Kriklij, accompanying members of the neo-Nazi organization C14 at Kiev Central Railway Station in search of ‘gypsy gangs’. Until these links are severed, the climate for Roma, LGBT+ groups and other marginalized communities in Ukraine will only worsen. Violent ‘anti-gypsyism’ is enabled, first and foremost, by the absence of public sanctions against its perpetrators. This makes the work of Roma NGOs and civil society groups in Ukraine more important than ever.